Published: 08:00, 11 June 2016
There were growing claims this week that the web-based taxi company Uber was eyeing Medway as a lucrative new market.
Last week we reported how the Towns’ taxi drivers were worried about the intrusion of cabs operated by the American firm which has become heavily used in London amid a storm of controversy and complaints.
This week a former licensing chief has called on Medway Council to tackle the threat. Chris Webb has warned about the activities of the company and says he has total sympathy with Medway licensed cabbies.
He said that Uber was able to operate due to a legal loophole and does not have to comply with fare rates set by the council.
“The danger to the travelling public of using an Uber cab should not be underestimated,” he said. “They are not licensed by Medway Council and therefore not subject to its strict driver and vehicle checks. A passenger has no idea whether the vehicle is roadworthy or that the driver may have serious criminal convictions or is even properly insured.”
He advised customers to stick with Medway taxis and believed the council could take further action to prevent the online company taking trade.
“Medway Council can go a long way to address this problem by its licensing enforcement officers regularly getting out on the streets, day, night and unsocial hours to set up ‘stings’” he said, adding that driver and
vehicle checks could be carried out in conjunction
with the police and DVLA.
“Medway cabbies pay a lot of money to Medway Council for their driver, vehicle and operator licences,” he added. “They deserve something better in return, particularly more effective enforcement.”
Mike Smith, chairman of the Medway Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, said there was concern among his members about the threat but they felt powerless to stop Uber. “Every fare they take is a fare the local taxi drivers don’t get.”
However, Uber general manager Fred Jones said the claims that the company was operating due to a legal loophole and presented a danger were "simply incorrect".
"Uber is fully licensed and abides by all the rules and regulations that govern private hire in the UK," said Mr Jones. "All drivers who use the app are fully licensed by their local authority and all carry full commercial insurance. In order to get a private hire licence drivers must pass an enhanced DBS check, the very same background check black cab drivers have to go through, and cars on the platform are all fully licensed for private hire and are regularly tested.
"One of the main reasons Uber has been so popular is due to the safety features the app brings. These include getting a picture of the driver, their contact details, the car's licence plate and the driver’s rating at the time of booking. When on a trip you can share a live map of your journey with a friend or loved one, and when the trip ends the rider rates the driver to keep standards high.
"Uber is a fantastic option for people looking to get from A to B affordably with fares being around 30% cheaper than taxi. It's also great for professional drivers, including Hackney drivers as in some regions we partner with them so they can complete private hire bookings on the Uber platform and make the most of their time on the road."
There was also widespread support from some people who have already used the company.
On our website, SLady wrote: “Uber is easy to use, you can see the car that is getting you and a photo of the person and not to mention cheaper.”
Another reader “ And He” commented: “If it stops me from paying £56 to get from Maidstone high street to Rochester/Strood at 2am on a Saturday night, roughly 11 miles, then count me in.”
Uber driver Richie Simpson, who works in London and has completed jobs in Medway, addressed safety concerns saying it was important to remember Uber drivers are properly licenced.
He said London Uber drivers have to hold a transport for London private hire licence – for which drivers undergo a medical test, have an enhanced CRB check and complete a basic topological skills test.
Furthermore, their cars were licensed separately, and needed to be under five years old and insured when registered.
He added: “I can understand drivers in Medway are not happy with Uber drivers in the area, and as an Uber driver I see the point from both sides, but it’s important for the public to have a choice I’m confident there’s room for everyone.”
A Medway Council spokesperson said Uber was operating legally within the area and that the council had not experienced any problems with the company or received any complaints.
A spokesperson said: "UBER are allowed to operate in Medway via their app booking system, but their drivers cannot pick people up who attempt to flag them down on the street; that would go against the terms of their licences.
"We do engage in regular multi-agency licensing enforcement and will continue to work hard to find drivers operating without a license and act to remove the threat they pose to our community. We urge anyone with information about unlicensed taxis operating in Medway to contact the licensing team at the council."